Notes: Tiger ditches Torrey, plans on Pebble

By Doug FergusonNovember 22, 2011, 8:00 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods appeared to turn his back on Torrey Pines when he announced last week that he would open his 2012 season that week in Abu Dhabi at the HSBC Championship, with an appearance fee that likely approaches $3 million.

Woods not only is a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines – including the 2008 U.S. Open – he has started every season when healthy in San Diego since 2006, and the Farmers Insurance Open was the only California event he played during the West Coast swing.

But there’s a bigger picture to his scheduling.

Indications are that Woods plans a return to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time since 2002.

Such a move would make sense. Even though AT&T became the second corporate sponsor to drop Woods after revelations of his extramarital affairs in November 2009, it stayed on as the title sponsor of his tournament. Woods no longer is the official host of the AT&T National in early July, but his foundation remains the main charity beneficiary.

Woods had planned to play Pebble Beach in 2010 when he had the AT&T logo on his bag, though that was before his personal life imploded. He could not play last year because it was opposite the Dubai Desert Classic, and Woods was fulfilling an existing contract.

Since he last played the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the tournament has improved by trimming the field from 180 players to 156 players, and taking Poppy Hills out of the rotation and replacing it with the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula.

Woods last played Pebble Beach in 2010 at the U.S. Open, when he shot 75 in the final round and tied for fourth. His link to Pebble Beach will always be 2000, when he came from five shots behind in the last round to win the AT&T for his seventh straight PGA Tour victory, then shattered records with a 15-shot win at the U.S. Open that summer.

As for Abu Dhabi?

It had the strongest field of any European Tour event this year outside the majors and World Golf Championships, yet the title sponsor cannot be overlooked. HSBC is one of the primary corporate sponsors (AT&T is another) of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which includes being a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

Besides, there is precedence to Woods skipping Torrey Pines.

In his first full year on the PGA Tour, he instead went overseas for two weeks of appearance money. Woods won the Asian Honda Classic and tied for eighth in the Australian Masters. That was two months before he won the 1997 Masters.


NEXT UP: When Nick Price was last seen at the Presidents Cup, the tension was so high in South Africa that he snapped a putter over his knee on the 18th hole at Fancourt. His next appearance is likely to be as the International team captain.

Price fits the profile as a three-time major champion, an immensely popular player from Zimbabwe who was No. 1 in the world and played on the first five teams.

As for the United States’ next captain? That’s where it gets a little more up in the air.

The logical choice would be Mark O’Meara, snubbed by the PGA of America as captain of the Ryder Cup went it went to Ireland in 2006. The two-time major champion is interested in the job and was the first player to go 5-0 in the Presidents Cup.

Other options could be Kenny Perry, a three-time winner of the Memorial at Muirfield Village, site of the 2013 Presidents Cup. The PGA Tour might also inquire about Tom Watson, in keeping with earlier times of the Presidents Cup when the captains included Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.


WORLD CUP: Gareth Paddison of New Zealand was raving about the power of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, asking which of them could hit it the longest off the tee. A short time later, Paddison mentioned how thrilled he was that he and Michael Hendry would be playing in the World Cup, which starts Thursday at Mission Hills in China.

Paddison holed a bunker shot in the playoff as New Zealand earned one of three spots in a qualifier at Malaysia. The Kiwis will be part of the 28-man field.

“I know Matt Kuchar is playing for the United States,” Paddison said. “I don’t know much about the other guy.”

For someone intrigued by sheer power, wait until Paddison gets his eyes on Gary Woodland.

Kuchar and Woodland will try to end a 10-year losing streak by the Americans, who once dominated an event that dates to 1953. They will be far from favorites, however. Far from it.

Northern Ireland is sending the last two U.S. Open champions (Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell), while South Africa counters with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are playing for England. The defending champion from 2009 is Italy, which returns Francesco and Edoardo Molinari.


HOPEFULS AND FAILURES: As a reminder how quickly fortunes can turn in golf, consider Woody Austin in the Presidents Cup just four years ago. He fell face first into the water at Royal Montreal trying to play a shot and was nicknamed “Aquaman.”

As the Americans were winning at Royal Melbourne, Austin failed to get through the second stage of Q-school and now only has status as a past champion.

Austin wasn’t alone. Among others who failed to get through the second stage were past PGA Tour winnersWill MacKenzie, Joe Durant, Robert Damron, Ted Purdy, Parker McLachlin, Eric Axley and Frank Lickliter.

Advancing to the final stage were Tommy Armour III, former major champions Rich Beem and Lee Janzen, along with Boo Weekley, a favorite in the Ryder Cup just three years ago at Valhalla.

A pair of college kids who won this year on the Nationwide Tour had mixed results – Harris English advanced to the final stage next week in California, while Russell Henley did not. Henley, of course, still has full status in the minor leagues.

Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, also made it to the Q-school finals for the first time. Ty Tryon, who first earned his card in 2001 when he was 17, made it back to the final stage 10 years later.


DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson now has played 42 matches in the Presidents Cup, breaking the record held by Vijay Singh (40). When he lost to Adam Scott in singles, it ended an 11-match unbeaten streak for Mickelson in the Presidents Cup. … Gary Hallberg, the first of six players who earned PGA Tour cards without going to Q-school, was among five players who earned Champions Tour cards last week. The others were P.H. Horgan III, Jeff Hart, Jim Rutledge and Jeff Freeman. … Symetra has signed on as the umbrella sponsor for the LPGA’s developmental tour. It now will be called the Symetra Tour. … Those who buy tickets to the Memorial next year will get a one-time link that allows them access to Presidents Cup tickets in 2013 at Muirfield Village at a discounted rate of $165 for a grounds pass. That ticket normally is $207 for the week.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The Americans have a 7-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup. After the first nine matches at the Ryder Cup, the Americans had a 7-2-0 record.


FINAL WORD: “Just because we lost doesn’t mean to say we didn’t win.” International captain Greg Norman, whose team lost 19-15 to the Americans in the Presidents Cup.

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.


1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.



4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.



7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”


Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  


Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.



The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Web.com Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.